Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 507)

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 507)

Just back from our Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour for 2016, this week we start a three part travelogue series to walk you through the tour with a total of 36 images.

We start the tour with with an early flight to Hokkaido, following a night at a hotel at the Haneda airport, where we have a pre-tour dinner and start to get to know each other. Five of the participants of this tour were on my Winter Wonderland wildlife tours last year, so it was lovely to see those people again, and of course it’s always nice to meet the first time participants on any of my tours. I recorded a message from each of them at the end of the tour, that we’ll listen to at the end of part three of this series.

Once in Hokkaido, it’s a relatively short drive to our first location, in the rolling hills of Biei, where the photography is centered around a tree that I’ve been in love with since my first Hokkaido tour back in 2008. For the real long-time listeners among you, you’ll know that we used to visit Biei on the landscape leg of my tours before I decided to cut away the landscape leg and concentrate on wildlife, until I started this landscape specific tour last year that is. Now we spend the first three days in Biei before heading over to the west coast of the island then around the northern-most tip, and back down the east coast during our 12 day itinerary.

As you can see from this photo (below) we had a somewhat dramatic sky on this first morning, with the sun poking through the cloud enough at time to give us these sun’s rays amongst the heavy clouds. For this image I was a way down the hill to include the brow of another hill in front of the tree to give the scene a little more context, and also just because I like the shape. Despite the sun being out, if you look closely at the image you’ll also see snow in the air, which I think adds a nice additional dimension.

Biei Tree with Sun's Rays

Biei Tree with Sun’s Rays

My camera settings for this shot were f/14 for a 1/400 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 170mm, so you can tell I was a little distance away from the tree. I was shooting with two Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies on this trip, and three lenses; the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L lens, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens and the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens.

This kit was perfect for this trip, giving me a backup body in case one failed, but also enabling me to use two lenses attached to cameras at the same time. I will change lenses in most conditions, so that doesn’t really bother me, but it generally just speeds up my shooting workflow to be able to simply reach for a different camera for another focal length rather than changing lenses.

After working the area around my favorite tree for a few hours, we went for lunch, and then visited another location where I know there are a number of stands of trees that look beautiful on heavily overcast or snowy days, and you can see one of them in this photo (below).

Stand of Trees on Hill

Stand of Trees on Hill

The settings for this photo were f/14, 1/30 of a second exposure at ISO 100, and a focal length of 176mm.

On last years trip, it was sunny for most of the first two days, and that can seriously limit our shooting options, because the snow becomes too contrasty and sky is clear, giving us too much background. In my mind, the locations that I guide my group to only really come to life when it’s overcast, and when it actually starts snowing, it changes the scene again, as we’ll see.

It was cloudy or snowing for most of our time during this trip, which was really nice, although it was not snowing for this particular image. I often feel as though the shots of trees with heavy snow look like pencil sketches, but this image, converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro feels more like a pen drawing to me, which I also like.

Just along the road from the last scene is the tree that we see in this next photo (below) sitting nicely on the brow of a hill, with some “Sasa” bamboo leaves poking through the snow, which I feel adds a nice added element too. My final selection of images from this tour is 101 images, and I actually have two more shots of this tree left in the set, where there is some really nice light coming over the hill, but the tree is on the right side of the frame. For now, I have chosen this left position as that’s supposed to be more comfortable for left to right readers to view, although I think I actually prefer the other composition. I’ll think about flipping one of them too maybe.

Tree with Sasa Leaves

Tree with Sasa Leaves

I shot this at f/14, 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, with a focal length of 188mm. You can probably see a pattern forming here, whereas the 100-400mm lens or a 70-200mm lens are really useful for this leg of the trip, although my other lenses do get more use as we progress.

The following morning with the promise of different light, we revisited the tree that we went to first on day one. In this photo (below) you can see that the dawn light and overcast sky enables us to record the detail of this tree, rather than having it fall almost into silhouette, as it does in the first photo. Many of the trees in the Biei area have names, although I’ve never found a name for this tree on any map, so I selfishly call it Martin’s tree. I’m OK with that, because I have not found anyone else producing images of this specific tree, and definitely not as long as I have been doing.

Biei "Martin's" Tree

Biei “Martin’s” Tree

My settings for this image were f/14, 1/4 of a second, at ISO 100, this time at 255mm, a little longer that I would have been able to shoot with my 70-200mm, which I brought with me last year. You’ll probably have noticed too noticed that I shoot a lot in f/14. This is to get a good depth of field before diffraction starts to kick in. I know some people profess to shoot at wider apertures, but the image quality is totally there at f/14, so I use that aperture a lot.

There was a time when the sky started to go pink through the clouds as the sun rose during this dawn shoot, and I toyed with the idea of leaving this next photo of “my” tree (below) in color, but in the end, I gave in to the temptation of converting it to black and white like the rest. I just love seeing most of the scenery that we capture on this tour in black and white. To me it just so matches the subject matter.

Bie Tree

Bie Tree

This was also shot at f/14, for 1/13 of a second this time, at ISO 100 and a focal length of 135mm.

There is another spot that I like to take the group, where we have to walk a little bit down the road from a place where we can stop our bus, to a location where there is a beautiful tree on hill, as we see in this photo (below). This is actually the same tree that I’m using as the marketing image for the 2017 tour at the moment, although I might change that later as I live with this year’s work for a while.

Hanazono Tree in Snow

Hanazono Tree in Snow

This year it was snowing quite heavily when we photographed this tree, so this has become almost like the pencil drawing that I like, but the snow was coming straight for us, not across the scene, so I think for this subject, I prefer the clarity of last year’s image. We can’t control when it snows of course, and although we can try to chase the subjects that look best in snow, it’s sometimes difficult to time it just right. I still really like the subtle difference in tones between the line of the hill here, just above the fence posts, and the ever so slightly lighter sky. This was shot at f/11, as I needed a slightly faster shutter speed to overcome some nasty wind. The ISO was left at 100 though, and the focal length was 135mm.

While it was still snowing a little, we went back to the few stands of trees before going to lunch, and I made this photograph (below). This is almost a replica of last year’s shot of these trees, but it was snowing much heavier last year, making it look more like a pencil drawing, but I still like the structure in this year’s version, and there is still snow crossing the front of the trees adding that additional dimension of being able to see the air.

Sketched Trees

Sketched Trees

Remember as you view these images, if you open up your browser window much wider than the post width, and click on the images, you can view them much larger. They will automatically advance to the next image too, but you can use your keyboard arrow keys or mouse to move back and forth, or place your mouse over the image to stop the slideshow from progressing. I shot this at 1/60 of a second at f/14, ISO 100 at 100mm.

After lunch, I had our bus driver drop us off at the top of a hill on the way back to the same areas that we shot the last image, and he parked our bus in a car park that the group all now knew, and we walked back to it through the hills for about a mile. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to photograph the tree in the next image (below).

Tree in Hollow

Tree in Hollow

This tree was sitting in a slight hollow, which dissects its shadow a little, and I found that quite pleasing. Again, I also really enjoy it when there is only a subtle difference in tone between the color of the snow and the sky. I was also interested to find that I processed a number of my images from this trip in Lightroom, instead of Silver Efex Pro. I still love the ease of Silver Efex, but for some of these images I found that the control over the black and white conversation that I have in Lightroom was enough, and that’s  perhaps a first for me. I do prefer to keep my images in their original raw format too when possible, so using Lightroom for black and white conversion enables me to do that, which is an added bonus.

This was shot at f/14 for a 1/10 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 400mm. This is of course the long end of my 100-400mm, so you can tell how far away this tree was. The 70-200mm lens works as your long lens for this trip, but last year I found myself using my extender a lot, and figured that I could live without the gap of 30mm between my 24-70mm and the 100-400mm lenses, in exchange for this extra reach, and I was happy with my decision.

As we continued to walk back along the road to where our bus would be parked, I initially walked straight past this next photograph, but luckily I’m in the habit of looking behind myself regularly as I look for images. As I looked back at this point, this graphic composition of the fanned out grasses caught my eye immediately (below).

Radiating Grasses

Radiating Grasses

Once again, this was shot at f/14, for 1/6 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 227mm. I could have used a shallower depth of field here, with a wider aperture of course, but the grass was still, so there was really no need to change my settings so I just rolled with it.

This next image (below) actually made me a couple of minutes late back to the bus, but usually, the mountains in the distance to the right of this scene make it too messy for a really minimalist shot, but the snow and reduced visibility gave me the entire seventeen trees in this row, so I couldn’t resist running down to this spot for one last frame before I jumped on the bus to head back to the hotel at the end of day two.

Seventeen Trees

Seventeen Trees

I shot this at f/11 for a longer 6 second exposure, without a neutral density filter, so you can tell that it was really quite dark at the end of the day now, and the focal length was 25mm. This is another Lightroom conversion, as I just liked the subtle tones in the shadows under the trees a little better in this version.

We had a relatively steady start on day three, as we were driving a good distance from the hotel, so we had breakfast before we left. We drove around to the ski lift station at Mount Asahi, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido, where we walked a little way up the ski slopes, keeping out of the way of the skiers of course, as we looked for photographs like this one (below), which is absolute chaos, I know.

Chaos

Chaos

It’s actually the chaos that attracted me to this subject. I love visiting this spot, because it can present some very challenging composition opportunities, but often some extraordinarily beautiful scenes. I’m not sure if this falls into the latter category, for it certainly was a challenge to compose though. I found the foreground tree, and just love the detail, but when I framed it up, the background was just chaotic. I thought about using a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field, but I actually started to really like this look, with everything just all jumbled up together, so this became my image. It was shot at f/11 for 1/30 of a second, ISO 100 at 70mm, the long end of my 24-70mm lens.

Just along from the last image, I found this scene, that has probably become one of my favorite images of the trip (below). I felt this easier to compose than the last image, although there was a lot of thought that went into this. Firstly, the cable car cables run almost half way into the scene, and there was a large pillar to support the cables, so I moved into a position where the pillar would be behind a tree, leaving me only the cables to clone out.

Mount Asahi Trees

Mount Asahi Trees

I also wanted the twigs from that small bush in the foreground not to overlap with the other two bushes in the distance behind it, so I adjusted for that too. Finally, I tweaked my framing so that I cut off the trees at each side in a pleasing place.

Also, note that because I expose to the right, my original of this is almost pure white, with pale grey trees, but I decided to process this with a somewhat classic look, which I think suits the scene. For my black and white snow scenes, I pretty much always now turn on Enable Profile Corrections under the Profile tab of the Lens Corrections panel in Lightroom. This removes both lens distortion and vignetting from an image.

I sometimes only remove the vignette, but generally both. The reason I do this, is to stop the corners getting really dark during the black and white conversion, but as you can see in this image, I chose to leave the vignette there. I did not use the Lens Corrections. I could have corrected it and then added my own vignette later, but something about this image just beckoned me to leave it with this classic feel with a real lens vignette.

My settings for this image were, you guessed it, f/14, 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 30mm, again with my 24-70mm lens.

So, that’s our twelve images for today, and we’ll pick up the trail next week with a photograph from the foothills of Mount Asahi from a shoot on our way back to the hotel later in the day.

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017

Before we finish, I just wanted to quickly mention that we have now started taking bookings for the 2017 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure, from January 8 to the 20th, 2017. Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, and as you might have noticed, it is the minimalist winter landscape photographer’s dream. This will be our third year running a dedicated landscape tour in Hokkaido, and it’s evolving into something very special that I’m extremely proud of. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017


Show Notes

For details of the 2017 Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Adventure visit the tour page here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

So, as you just heard, I was over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, a few weeks ago. Today, we start a two part series in which I’m going to talk a little more about the trip, as we look at a few more shots from the day, and I’ll mix in a few tips on how I got some of the shots as usual.

We were played in there by me standing on the shore of Lake Inawashiro in the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan. The wind was high, and the snow was driving at me at almost horizontally. It was impossible to stand looking into the snow and record, so as I said, I turned my back to the wind and snow for most of the time there. It was just after 6:30AM when I started recording that intro, and it was still pretty dark, but getting gradually lighter as I spoke. I was into Civil Twilight though, as I confirmed by using VelaClock, a tool that I use on my iPhone to find out when the various twilights start, and what time the sun will rise. I’ll be talking more about VelaClock in another episode in the near future, so I won’t go into much detail today, but I did want to quickly mention that from the last update, VelaClock now has the ability to select different days in the past or future, which was the last thing I was waiting for, after information on the azimuth at which the sun and moon will rise and set, so now, in my opinion, this is a must have iPhone application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. It also now has the ability to detect your location with the iPhone’s GPS, and give information on that location, or you can input GPS coordinates into the home location for use when planning a trip. I’ll put a link to the VelaClock site in the show-notes, but just search for VelaClock in iTunes App Store and you’ll find it there.

Anyway, the sun was going to rise at about 7AM, but the heavy snow clouds were cutting out a lot of the light. There was no point in just standing there though, waiting for the swans to fly, because like I said, they tend to swim more when it’s gusting as it was, and probably wouldn’t fly in this weather until it got a little warmer after dawn. So, basically, I started to see what could be picked out of the landscape with my 300mm F2.8 and we can see an example of what I captured in image number 2039. You can tell how low the light still was, because I shot with an aperture of F5.6, and I still had to select a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, with ISO 800. In this wind, I was relying heavily on my tripod, and the Image Stabilization, because it really was gusting. Most of the shots were sharp though, as I shot mostly in the moments when the wind died down slightly, and the tripod served me well. Now, I have of course included a man-made object with this jetty that will be used in the summer months to board people onto their swan shaped paddling boat, but right now, it was only serving to add a point of reference in my photo showing how the snow was driving almost horizontally across the scene, and how really cold this place was. It wasn’t really bitterly cold, and nowhere near as cold as it gets in Hokkaido on the dawn shoots, but with the temperature being pretty much at around freezing point without the wind, when you calculate in the wind chill, it must have been around minus 10 or 15 degrees. I don’t know how fast the wind was blowing, so I can’t calculate this accurately.

Blizzard Jetty

Blizzard Jetty

I think I’ve mentioned before, but the main problem with shooting in conditions like this, apart from the obvious things like cold hands and actually seeing, is the fact that the snow hits the front element of your lens as soon as you point the lens directly at it. At this angle, I was still probably around a 45 degree angle away from the snow, and so could play with the scene a little. In the next image, number 2045, I was still working this same patch, just looking for areas of the scene to crop out with my 300mm lens. This was shot at 7:22, almost half an hour after the last shot. The sun was now above the horizon, though of course not lighting this scene, and probably in fact still behind the mounts behind me. The sky was of course though much brighter now, and so I had reduced my ISO to 200, and was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at F5 for this, so much more available light now, although still pretty bleak. This is one of my favourites from this series of shots where I just cropped out portions of the scene. I have uploaded a few more, and I will include a link in the show-notes to list all 30 shots that I uploaded from this day and the previous evening, in case you are interested in taking a look. I like the look of the dark trees with the driving snow and then the slightly soft background, caused by both the shallow depth of field, and the fact that there’s more snow back there. One thing to note here is that to bring out these blacks from the snow storm, I had to increase the black slider in Lightroom to about 20, from the default of 5, and increased the contrast and clarity some too, to bring out the definitions of the shapes a little more.

Snow Storm Trees

Snow Storm Trees

Getting back to the snow on the front element though, as the light levels rose, I really wanted to start shooting the area of the scene in which the swans roost, and so I was going to have to start and point my lens straight into the snow. I find that the only way to shoot in these conditions is to shoot quickly, then wipe the lens. If you only have a bit of water on the lens, you can usually blow it off with a blower, but in conditions like this, the front element gets covered pretty quickly, so there’s no option other than wiping it with a lens cloth. I keep one handy at all times when shooting, and simply had to shoot in bursts, then turn the camera towards me and give the front element a wipe, then shoot again for a few frames.

The other problem of course is that you can’t change the lens very easily, without risking getting snow, and therefore of course water, inside the camera, which is not good. It would probably be worth taking the risk if you really have to, but you would have to be very careful, and when you consider that I needed a long lens on the camera in case the swans did start to fly through the snow, I really didn’t think it was worth taking the risk. So, to capture images like number 2047, I basically turned the camera up into portrait mode, and shot a series of images, moving across the scene at about half a frame at a time, and then stitched them together in Photoshop. This was actually sixteen vertical images stitched together, with lots of overlap in each of course. The resulting image is 16,248 pixels long and 3,658 pixels high. It’s difficult to appreciate this in the Web version of course, but it’s one cool image to view in Photoshop CS4. The reason being that CS4 now uses the computers GPU or graphics processing unit to render images on the screen, and you can now grab the image and as you move it across the screen, the image scrolls fully intact, not like before, where it moved the image with a frame, then re-rendered the image after you let go of it. This means that you can basically zoom in to fill the screen horizontally, then just flick across it, viewing all of the detail in the image. There are a lot of swans in there, just waiting to be seen. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but I’m hoping that before too long I’ll be able to print this out on roll paper, and do a really big long panoramic print of this, to see what it really looks like in its entirety. The stitching was painless by the way. CS4 seems to have made even more improvements to an already good stitching utility.

Swan's Roost

Swan’s Roost

This image was shot at 7:30AM, shortly before I finished the dawn shoot and went back inside for breakfast. I recorded another few minutes of audio before going back though, so let’s listen to that before we finish for today, ready to pick up the shoot after breakfast in the next episode. I kind of feel as though it would be nice to end with this clip, so let’s skip the housekeeping section for this week. Don’t tune out just yet, but I’ll just say thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the VelaClock Application for the iPhone. This is a must have application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. http://www.veladg.com/velaclockapp.html

Music by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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